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John Sununu and Obama: Time to talk openly about race in Election 2012?

Romney co-chair John Sununu called Colin Powell's endorsement of President Obama racially motivated. It shows how talk about race in Election 2012 has been through insinuations and insults.

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By contrast, in 2008, Obama won 43 percent of the white vote (a slightly better performance, it should be noted, than that of John Kerry and Al Gore, who took 41 and 42 percent of whites, respectively). Among nonwhites, Obama appears to be performing at the same level he did in 2008, winning 80 percent.

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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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While the loss in support among whites puts Obama’s reelection chances in obvious jeopardy, it still may not ultimately be fatal, since he currently appears to be doing somewhat better among whites in some of the states that matter most, such as Ohio. (To put it another way, Obama could be on his way to losing the white vote by historic margins in the South, but that wouldn’t necessarily affect his electoral vote total at all.)

In addition, as many analysts have noted, the white vote has become a steadily smaller share of the electorate, and no one knows exactly what portion of the total it will be this year. If minority turnout is higher than expected, that would obviously help Obama overcome his growing deficit among whites.

Still, in the face of what appears to be an obvious and growing racial divide, in an election featuring the nation’s first black president, it's striking that open discussions of race – and its impact on voting behavior – have been largely missing from the campaign.

On Friday morning, reacting to the new ABC/Post poll, National Journal’s Ron Fournier made exactly this point when he tweeted: “WaPost and others find Obama’s support among white voters eroding. How much of this, if any, related to racial prejudice? Discuss.”

Conservative writer John Podhoretz responded by tweeting back: “Right on schedule. MT @ron_fournier Obama's support among white voters eroding. How much of this, if any, related to racial prejudice?”

We’d wager nearly everyone agrees that an electorate split more sharply along racial lines than at any time in a generation is probably not a healthy state of affairs for the country. Yet it seems almost impossible to talk about the role of race in politics without immediately raising hackles on both sides. That’s a shame.


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